The presence of Burma’s military junta at the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations earlier this week caused no end of humiliation for the group’s members. Although it includes democracies, communist regimes, and monarchies, ASEAN harbours an ambition to mould a community not only of free-market economies but also of democracies that respect the human and civil rights of their citizens.

The heads of state and foreign ministers in Singapore had to decide how to respond to September’s spectacle of peacefully protesting Buddhist monks and other citizens of Burma being beaten and killed by the junta’s security forces. At the time, ASEAN called the regime’s assaults on the people of Burma “repulsive.” But in Singapore, with junta officials in their midst, member states reverted to their timorous habit of declining to interfere in each other’s internal affairs.

The generals who rule Burma are like an occupying army that has laid waste to their own country. Even China has been more forthright than ASEAN in calling for democratic reform in Burma. Instead of ASEAN’s hands-off approach, the nations of the world need to maintain unrelenting political and economic pressure on the ruling generals to release political prisoners and permit a peaceful transition to democracy. — The Boston Globe